Thinking About Soup (In Memory of Gina DePalma)

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On New Year’s Day, I didn’t eat a salad, I didn’t hop on a treadmill, I didn’t write the annual letter to myself that I’ve been writing since I read about doing that in some magazine half a decade ago. This year, I grabbed the giant stock pot that sits on top of my oven and put it on the stove. Out of the freezer I pulled a bag of chicken backs that I cut off of chickens in 2015 and dumped them into the humongous vessel along with a whole onion, a whole carrot, a head of garlic cut in half, some bay leaves, peppercorns, and a handful of parsley leaves. I filled it all the way up with water (at least two gallons), turned the heat up to medium, waited for it all to come to a simmer, then turned it to low. Every so often, I’d skim, but for the next eight hours, I just let the chicken stock perk away.

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Gina DePalma’s Fonduta

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[One of my favorite people in the food world–actually, in the world period–is the brilliant writer/chef/pastry chef Gina DePalma, author of Dolce Italiano and former pastry chef at Babbo. If you’re not following her on Twitter or reading her blog, you really should; it’s excellent. And here she is with a sauce that’ll make all of you cheese-lovers swoon. Take it away, Gina!]

When Adam approached me about making a contribution to his Sauce Week, it didn’t take long for fonduta to spring up in my head as an ideal candidate. A classic recipe from Italy’s Northwestern region of Piemonte, fonduta isn’t exactly a sauce, but more of dish itself, yet it has all the qualities of a great sauce – it naps and slicks seductively, adds richness and flavor, and is so darn good it is hard not to pour it directly down your throat.

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Soup of Cannellini Beans with Pasta and Rosemary

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Well if the banner says it’s autumn, it’s autumn. So let’s make soup.

Soup really tests your cooking prowess because there’s always a way to make it taste better. Even if you’re not crazy about the results, you can fix them. For example: when Gina DePalma taught me how to make her lentil soup (which Smitten Kitchen featured on her blog) the key step was sizzling garlic in olive oil and stirring it in at the end. That’s the ultimate soup fixer-upper. Today’s soup comes to us from Chez Panisse Cooking and there’s a lot of flavor introduced up front so it doesn’t need much fixing at the end.

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Gina DePalma’s Creamy, Dreamy Ricotta Cheesecake

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For years, I’ve wanted to make a ricotta cheesecake. One time, long ago, I did it in a coffee mug–I was going through a weird phase of my life, then–but that was it. I never actually made a real ricotta cheesecake.

Then, this weekend, I was supposed to bring a dessert to a dinner party. The original plan was to bring a chocolate dessert, but the day before I had a sudden change of heart. “Can I bring a ricotta cheesecake instead?” I asked the host. The host said, “Sure.” I was all set to make the one out of Gina DePalma’s Dolce Italiano (a wonderful book) until I told Gina DePalma my plan and she let me in on a little secret.

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Bagna Cauda (The Butter Garlic Anchovy Sauce of Your Dreams)

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When a significant other goes out of town, most people use that opportunity to watch bad movies, to pig out on ice cream, and to spread out gratuitously in bed while sleeping. Me? I make risky foods. No, I don’t mean risky in a danger sense–I’m not eating supermarket ground beef tartar–I mean in a “will this be good?” sense. I take bigger chances when Craig’s not here because if I screw up, no one’s there to scrunch up their nose. So on Saturday morning, when I woke up and wanted breakfast, I opened Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book and studied the recipe for a sandwich that she says is Mari Batali’s favorite. It’s basically boiled eggs on arugula doused in Bagna Cauda. I didn’t have any bread and I didn’t have any arugula, but I did have the ingredients to make Bagna Cauda. And eggs. And, also–somewhat weirdly–farmer’s market Brussels Sprouts. An idea was born.

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Gina DePalma’s Zucchini Olive Oil Cake

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You say “chocolate cake,” and the masses come; you say “olive oil zucchini cake” and there’s a bit of a silence. “Ummm,” a timid voice emerges a few seconds later. “What kind of cake did you say?”

It’s olive oil zucchini cake, timid-voiced person! Or, rather, zucchini olive oil cake. It comes from Babbo pastry chef Gina DePalma’s book “Dolce Italiano” and one bite will make a convert out of you. It’s moist, it’s got terrific fall spices (cinnamon? check. ginger? you got it. nutmeg? who’s your daddy?) and there’s a “lemon crunch” glaze on top that’ll make you pucker your lips in delight. Craig’s friend Alena was dubious at first, but after one bite she declared “this is AMAZING” and asked for a second piece. The defense rests.

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Fun with Toasted Almonds (Toasted Almond Gelato & Toasted Almond Raspberry Blondies)

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Hi everyone, my name is Toasted Almonds. You might not think much of me–I know nuts aren’t the most beloved of foods, and toasting? It sounds like a waste of time, right?–but I’m here to convince you that I’m a worthy addition to your cooking repertoire.

My brother, Plain Almonds, is a nice guy and all, but between you and me? He’s a little boring. For example, he underlines words that he doesn’t know when he reads, then he makes flash cards and studies them later. That’s Plain Almonds for ya. But me? I’m a wild man. When I read, I doodle inappropriate pictures in the margins of the book. Like last week I drew pictures of toasted, skinless hazelnuts in the margins of “Crime & Punishment” and Plain Almonds got so mad! He told me I was trail mix the next time I tried a stunt like that.

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Citrus-Glazed Polenta Cake

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I’m heading home in five minutes (really! the car’s on its way) to attend my brother’s wedding this weekend in Boca Raton, Florida. You were there when my brother got engaged (remember?) and now the wedding’s finally here and we’re all pretty excited. But I didn’t want to leave you without anything to cook this weekend: so here you go, a cake that matches this beautiful weather and this beautiful occasion. It’s a citrus polenta cake from Gina DePalma’s “Dolce Italiano” and it’s a bright, zingy cake that’ll put a big smile on your face. I haven’t met Gina yet–she’s the James Beard award winning pastry chef at Babbo–but our books sit together on a shelf at my favorite coffee shop, Joe The Art of Coffee. Gina, as some of you might know, is currently battling cancer; so make this cake in her honor and send good cake karma her way. And in the meantime, I’ve gotta go! Have a great weekend and happy baking.

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